My Cat's Afraid of His Carrier

No cats like being carted off to the vet's office unexpectedly and most learn to associate the dreaded cat carrier with this upheaval of their routine.  If the carrier comes out, they run and hide.  It can be even worse if they associate trauma with the carrier.  Lenore W. writes:

I scared my cat Max by hurriedly trying to get him in his carrier. Now he balks when he sees it. I even left it out for several days open but he stayed away from it. How do I help him erase the bad memory and get him into the carrier without a big fuss?

Lenore, there's no guarantee that Max will ever love his carrier, as most cats loathe being trapped and unable to escape.  Still, there are ways to help him to feel better about it.  The key is developing positive associations with the carrier.  You want Max to think of good things when he sees it.

Before we develop positive associations, though, we have to do what we can to eliminate the negative ones.  Thoroughly wash the carrier and do your best to eliminate any lingering odors from the veterinarian's office, your car, or other cats (if you have more than one).  Cats are keenly aware of scents, so you'll need to be diligent.  You may want to use an enzymatic cleaner to be sure.


The other negative association you'll want to eliminate is your own emotional state when you see Max near the carrier.  You want Max to feel better about it and that will make you somewhat anxious every time he approaches it.  Max will certainly pick up on these vibes, so you want to adopt a devil-may-care attitude to the carrier.  Act as if you couldn't care less about that old thing and Max will stress out less when he sees it too.

Now, on to the positive associations.  Replace any bedding in the carrier with something that carries your own scent.  An old t-shirt or a pair of sweatpants you've worn will do the trick.  Leave the carrier open and either remove the gate if it's a hard carrier or unzip every opening if it's soft.  Leaving it wide open can help max to feel as though he won't be trapped if he goes inside.

Of course, what has the most positive associations for every cat?  Food!  You'll want to plant several treats in the carrier for Max to discover when you're away.  Don't try to lure him in or show him the treats.  Just let him get curious about the carrier and discover them when you're not around.  Repeat this from time to time and he'll begin to check the carrier for treats each time he passes.

Lenore, this process won't happen overnight, so be patient with Max and allow him to move at his own pace.  We feel sure you can succeed!